An urgent, emphatic call to judges to better protect children

There is way too much killing in America. Murders, accidental shootings, executions, deadly domestic abuse, despondent people who kill themselves, and then there is filicide.

That’s when parents kill their own child. We would like to think this sort of heinous crime doesn’t happen, but it happens way too often.

A study published in the Forensic Science International journal combed through more than 30 years of FBI filicide cases and found parent-on-child murder happens in the United States about 500 times each year.

More than two-thirds of the victims are 6 years old or younger. It might surprise you to learn that mothers kill their children almost as frequently as fathers.

Experts believe parents kill for one of five reasons.

They think the child would be better off dead; psychosis convinces them that, say, their child is possessed by the devil; the child is seen as too much of a burden; death comes accidentally as an off-shoot of physical abuse; or the child is killed as revenge against the other parent.

Can you imagine killing a child to get back at the person you once professed to love? Last spring, Ana Estevez, an elementary school principal in California, handed over her 5-year-old son, nicknamed Piqui, to his father just as a judge’s shared-custody order said she must.

Estevez had repeatedly told the judge that her ex-husband was an unemployed gambler and pill popper with a bad temper. Her pleas for sole custody fell on deaf ears. So, on one April day in 2017, the boy and his father went off to spend the day at Disneyland along with Piqui’s paternal grandmother and aunt.

As the father, Aramazd Andressian, drove the child to his home in Santa Barbara County for a court-ordered overnight stay, he must have been thinking through his diabolical plot. Within a matter of hours, the boy had been smothered to death with his own jacket in the back seat of his father’s BMW.

Andressian would later explain that his plan was to kill the boy and then himself and make it look as though it was his ex-wife’s work. Andressian had even set the stage by telling people he had become afraid of Estevez following their contentious divorce and worried that she would kill him.

Estevez was frantic when her son was not returned the next day at the appointed time. She called police, and they found Andressian in a public park, unconscious from taking prescription pills, his car doused in gasoline. But where was Piqui? The father said he had no idea. Police immediately suspected foul play and jailed Andressian for child endangerment. But he insisted he didn’t know where his son might be. Massive air and land searches for little Piqui turned up nothing. Andressian was set free for lack of evidence.

For months, Estevez agonized over the fate of her little boy. In the meantime, her ex-husband traveled to Las Vegas to see shows and hire prostitutes, living off the court-ordered child and spousal support payments Estevez was forced to pay him.

Police trailing Andressian came to believe he was about to flee the country, and they finally arrested him on suspicion of murder in late June. Only then did Andressian ‘fess up and lead authorities to a wilderness area in Santa Barbara County where he had dumped Piqui’s body. I relate this story because too many filicide cases stem from tumultuous divorce cases, and you’d think the warning flags would be evident. But too many family-court judges dismiss protective parents’ complaints about their former spouse’s mental stability as posturing or sour grapes and routinely award joint custody.

According to the Center For Judicial Excellence, since 2008 more than 620 children have been murdered in the United States by a parent going through a contested divorce, separation, child-support case or custody case. More than 30 of those filicides occurred since little Piquo’s death last spring.

House Concurrent Resolution 72 is currently pending in the U.S. Congress, which declares that because child safety should be the first priority, “State courts should improve adjudications of custody where family violence is alleged.” Fairly wishy-washy language if you ask me. And realize that a resolution lacks the force of law. Congress could do better if it were to try, but it doesn’t.

So, we’re back to the judges who hear these cases. Ensuring the safety of children caught in the middle of warring parents is the judge’s responsibility. Yes, our family-court system is often overwhelmed. Judges don’t have the financial resources to check on the parental fitness of every parent with a suspected defect. But judges are awarded the bench for their insight and wisdom, not for their ability to fast-track the daily docket.

This is a call to all people who wear the black robe to take their life-and-death responsibility seriously — every day.

Diane Dimond is a Creators Syndicate writer.

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